Billy Budd

Synopsis: H.M.S. Avenger is headed into battle against the French fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, and the dark shadow of two recent mutinies in the English fleet concern Captain Vere. He relies on his cruel and often sadistic Master-at-Arms John Claggert to maintain what he believes to be tenuous order and discipline aboard the ship. When a new seaman, Billy Budd, is pressed into service from a passing merchantman, his innocent, happy-go-lucky attitude quickly endears him to both his messmates as well as the ship's officers. However, his charismatic naivete seems to bother Claggert, whose perverse depravity makes him resent Billy's good-natured purity, especially after the teenager's promotion to fore-top captain. The mean-spirited Claggert unfairly plots to put him on report and ultimately perjures himself when he accuses Billy of conspiring to mutiny.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, War
Director(s): Peter Ustinov
Production: Allied Artists Pictures
  Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
123 min

Seventeen ninety-seven...

... the year of the mutinies

of the fleet at Spithead and at the Nore...

... and of the continuing war

with republican France.

August the 16th, His Majesty's

frigate, Avenger, on a wartime cruise...

... with orders to reinforce

the British squadron off the coast of Spain.

John Claggart, master-at-arms,

royal navy.

Edwin Fairfax Vere,

post captain, royal navy.

The Dansker, sailmaker.

Philip Seymour, first lieutenant.

Julian Ratcliffe, second lieutenant.

Steven Wyatt, gunnery officer.

Enoch Jenkins, maintopman.

Squeak, assistant to Mr. Claggart.

Alan Payne, maintopman.

William O'Daniel, maintopman.

Arnold Talbot, maintopman.

Neil Kincaid, maintopman.

Alfred Hallam, captain of marines.

On the same day, at the same hour...

... the merchant ship, Rights of Man,

out of Dundee...

... bound for the West Indies

with a cargo of manufactured goods.

Nathaniel Graveling, ship's master.

Amos Leonard, first mate.

Charles Mathews, merchant seaman.

Billy Budd, merchant seaman.

- Down a little.

- Down a little, sir.

Weren't it better to heave to, sir?

She's a man-of-war.

Not an enemy, is she?

No, sir, she's British.

Her name's the Rights of Man, sir.

It's a dangerous name for a vessel

in this day and age.

- Is she heaving to?

- No, sir.

Aye. It's worse than any enemy.

If she's British, I'll not heave to.

If she's French,

she only wants to sink us.

Every seaman leads his life

in the expectation of being sunk.

If she's British, she'll want to take my best

men from me, and I'll not stand for that.

Hoist the topgallants.

Hoist the topgallants!

Hey, Budd.

Billy Budd, give us a song.

They calls me Hanging Johnny

Away, boys, away

They says I hangs for money

All hang, boys, hang

At first I hanged my Sally

Away, boys, away

And then I hanged my family

She's hoisting more canvas.

- They appear to be singing, sir.

- Yes.

Are they so ignorant

they cannot understand our purpose?

Oh, I doubt that it's ignorance

which motivates their actions, Mr. Ratcliffe.

Captain Hallam.

- Sir?

- We all envy your word of command.

Tell them to heave to, if you will,

with my compliments.


Away, boys, away

Captain's compliments...

...will you heave to?

- Captain, they're ordering us to heave to.

There can be no mistaking

their meaning now.

That don't prevent me

being a bit hard of hearing, do it?

- Fall off.

- Fall off, sir.

I'll get the best I can out of her.

She appears to be falling off

to make a fair wind of it, sir.

You sure she's not a Frenchman

in disguise, sir?

Nothing so adventurous,

I'm afraid, Ratcliffe.

Her refusal to heave to

proves she's one of ours.

But I will be obeyed.

Send a shot across her bows.

We're at war, Mr. Seymour.

Fire the bow chaser!

Well, I can't pretend

to be blind too, can I?

Back the main yard, Mr. Mate.

Backing the main yard, sir?

There's no avoiding it, man.

Get up on the focs'le.

If I spit now,

I'd get him fair and square, man.

Why do you waste it on him?

He's not so bad.

There's no difference

between any of them.

Cast off forward.

And what do you want, then?

Down oars.

All together.

All hands on deck.

All hands right over to the focs'le.

Budd. Billy Budd. Get up aloft again.

Maybe they won't see you.

Men lined up already, captain?

There's no doubt about your intentions.

Is that why you failed

to obey our order?

I never thought I'd see the day when

I'd pray for a French sail on the horizon.

A French sail? Why?

Then the royal navy

could do its duty for a change...

...protect our merchant ships

instead of preying on them.

You have ideas of your own, captain.

I'm not alone in that.

What's this man's record?

- Good.

- He looks a likely man.

What, with the whole of the Nore

and the mutiny?

Who's the likely man now, lieutenant?

Aye, there was officers killed and all.

Where did you hear this?

Aye, it's common knowledge.

We're not long out of port.

The mainland's buzzing with it.

Read the newspapers. They're talking

about reforms in the House of Commons.

You know what that means.

It means the reforms

are nearly a century overdue.

- Who is that?

- Billy. Billy Budd.

According to the rights of war...

...a man-of-war can impress a seaman

from any other vessel.

- Do you understand that, Billy?

- Aye, captain.

You also understand

there's nothing I can do?

Aye, captain.

You understand too much too well.

Are you at least sorry to be leaving?

Aye, that I am, captain.

It's a good ship, this.

You helped make it good.

A man-of-war, you'll find, is different.

- Different, sir?

- Aye, Billy.

Do your work well, keep your mouth shut,

except at meal times.

It's not as it is here.

Now, there's a good lad.

Go forward and get your gear.

Aye, captain.

My compliments to your captain.

Tell him I regret

I do not command a faster ship.

Cast off forward.

Take that oar.

Up together.

God go with you, Billy Budd...

...for it's a fact that you go with God.

Goodbye to you all.

- Goodbye to you too, old Rights of Man.

- What do you mean by that, boy?

Nothing, sir.

- All that trouble for only one man.

- Must be a reason, sir.

Oh, yes, I can imagine the reason...

...knowing the temper

of that vessel's master.

- Well, Seymour, our choice better be good.

- Get a rope down.

Do you swear to abide

by the Articles of War, to obey orders...

...and, if need be, to lay down your life

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Peter Ustinov

Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov, (né von Ustinov; or ; 16 April 1921 – 28 March 2004) was an English actor, voice actor, writer, dramatist, filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, screenwriter, comedian, humorist, newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster, and television presenter. He was a fixture on television talk shows and lecture circuits for much of his career. An intellectual and diplomat, he held various academic posts and served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and President of the World Federalist Movement. Ustinov was the winner of numerous awards over his life, including two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, Emmy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards for acting, and a Grammy Award for best recording for children, as well as the recipient of governmental honours from, amongst others, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. He displayed a unique cultural versatility that has frequently earned him the accolade of a Renaissance man. Miklós Rózsa, composer of the music for Quo Vadis and of numerous concert works, dedicated his String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22 (1950) to Ustinov. In 2003, Durham University changed the name of its Graduate Society to Ustinov College in honour of the significant contributions Ustinov had made as chancellor of the university from 1992 until his death. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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